by Neil Clark

From dusk, the village danced with my uncle’s corpse through the night. When the Sun came up, everyone’s skin glistened with orange and yellow tints, except his.

After dawn, the village carried him away to prepare him, while we kin observed the morning in divine silence. In our cabin, we heard their chanting from across the valley, but our lips remained closed until the time came to break our fast with sausage. For lunch, we were served stew of many textures. For supper, we sipped broth of bone in the comfort that, once it was in our bellies, all of him would be absorbed back into his own flesh and blood.

I am a man of fifteen years. When sundown soon comes, I will give my first toe.

Each of the rest of my kin will give a toe also, but for them this will be nothing new. Everyone else is orphaned or has lost at least someone. I have no memories of any relation of mine walking without an unsteadiness to their gait. There are elders elsewhere in this village who have no toes left to give, such is the cumulation of their grief. Whenever we wish to speak with God, we speak through them.

The Sun begins to slumber now. We kin take our places on our chairs, readied to be carried to the ceremony on the shoulders of the village.

I wiggle my first toe—always the left hallux. The blades of the shears it is about to meet are caked with blood of the village, going back to the beginning of death. When those ancient layers of crimson touch my skin, pierce the tissue, slice the tendon, crunch the bone, I become part of their tapestry and they become part of mine, and all pain will be washed away by euphoria. They say after a digit has been severed, you can hold on to the sensation of wiggling it for hours and days. At midnight, our toes will be offered to the scavengers to disperse our sorrow back into nature. So tonight, will I feel the sensation of ants gnawing at the new void at the tip of my left foot?

The horizon now douses the embers of daylight. Across the valley, the sound of drums begins. Before long, the legs of our chairs will be surrounded by the necks of the village.

Here, there is a saying. “I will say ‘hello’ to God for you.” Folk with nine toes or less yell it when they are passed by a steadier walker. All my life, the village has shrieked it at me. But tomorrow, I will be at liberty to prouden my chest and howl it to others.

We no longer can see across the darkened valley now. We only hear the chanting and pounding grow louder. Nearer. Here.

At any moment, the village will blindfold my eyes.

And when I see the Sun again, I will be closer.

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